Tim Scott, Iowa State Fair
Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC), who is currently at 3% in national primary polls, plays basketball at the 2023 Iowa State Fair in Des Moines, IA, on August 15, 2023. Photo credit: © Gage Skidmore/ZUMA Press Wire

With the outcome of the GOP primary in little doubt at this point, we asked ourselves what would happen if Donald Trump were to disappear from the field of presidential hopefuls.

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Last week, we explained why Donald Trump will almost certainly be the Republican presidential nominee next year. 

But what if he weren’t?

We thought that would be a fun question to ask ahead of the first GOP debate — in which, true to form, the former president won’t be participating.

Granted, this is more a thought exercise than anything else because how would that even happen? It’s not as though one of the other candidates could beat him. But let’s assume it’s something more likely than a primary defeat — for example, Trump is abducted by aliens or the Supreme Court rules that he is ineligible to run under the insurrection clause of the 14th Amendment, which would be hilarious.

For the purposes of this column, we’ll go with the aliens scenario — and we don’t mean people who came across the Southern border, which would result in a MAGA mob marching on Mexico, but rather the flying saucer kind. So, let’s imagine that, during one of his rallies, a spaceship appears, beams up the former president, and takes off.

Why would the aliens do this? Who knows? Maybe they have a lie-based economy, and Trump would be their planet’s most valuable resource, or maybe they watch a lot of Fox News and are just curious to see what would happen. Doesn’t matter.

Once things settle down and Trump supporters realize they probably can’t blame Jack Smith for the abduction, Republicans would realize they still need a nominee for 2024.

And suddenly, one of the least competitive primaries in US history would turn into the most competitive and entertaining one.

Polling indicates that Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who has been running an absolute trainwreck of a campaign, would become the leader of the pack with 32 percent of the vote followed by smarmy businessman Vivek Ramaswamy with 14 percent.

Unfortunately for these two, neither is likely to be the nominee.

Paradoxically, in this scenario, DeSantis could have been the standard bearer if he hadn’t entered the race at all. Then he would have been Trump’s heir apparent. As is, because he “betrayed” the former president by declaring his candidacy, he is now more like a pariah in the MAGAverse.

Speaking of pariahs, while Ramaswamy could be a formidable candidate if his name were Vince Roberts or something like that, at some point, all those evangelical Christians who select the GOP nominee will realize that the god Vivek is tweeting about has multiple sets of arms.

Obviously, that shouldn’t matter, and Republicans don’t seem to be overly bothered by following a guy who knows as much about the Bible as a piece of blue cheese. However, they will probably draw the line at “Hindu.”

At least that is what DeSantis is counting on. An opposition research memo that his campaign compiled (well, technically it was a super PAC with which the governor is not allowed to coordinate things but… LOL, who cares about these dumb FEC rules, right?) highlights Ramaswamy’s religion and Indian roots, both of which are clearly viewed as liabilities by the governor’s team. 

Let’s face it, they probably aren’t wrong. The current crop of GOP voters isn’t the most tolerant bunch.

Still, even without Trump, DeSantis will probably peak right around 30 percent, which means he could only win an extremely fragmented primary. And Ramaswamy will peak at, “Wait, he is a Christian, right?”

The only other candidates cracking 5 percent in that poll without Trump are Sen. Tim Scott (SC), former Govs. Nikki Haley (SC) and Chris Christie (NJ), and Trump betrayer Mike Pence.

Of that quartet, the two South Carolinians, Scott and Haley, probably have the best odds of winning, primarily because they haven’t been attacking the former president. Scott is lying low and running as a nice guy while Haley is seemingly focused entirely on China. Perhaps the best thing that could happen to her is an invasion of Taiwan.

Christie only has a chance if he can unite the anti-Trump vote behind himself while tons of MAGA candidates are duking it out on the other side.

And Pence? Well, for him it’s already a win if nobody says they want to hang him.

As you can see, not a single one of them is very formidable.

Therefore, it is quite possible that none of the candidates currently in the race would end up filling the vacuum Trump would leave behind.

Instead, you could expect all kinds of other people to jump in the race to make it even more exciting.

In fact, that’s when things would get interesting. First of all, there are a bunch of moderate Republicans who sat this one out because they knew they had no chance of winning, such as New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu and former Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan. With Trump abducted by aliens, they would likely try to compete for the votes of sane Republicans, who now only make up a sliver of all GOP voters.

However, things would only get really nutty on the far right. Here, you could see all kinds of crackpots and weirdos try to fill Trump’s shoes, beginning with his son Don Jr., Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (GA), Tucker Carlson, and right-wing opportunists in the Senate like Ted Cruz (TX) or Josh Hawley (MO).

From there, it is anybody’s guess what comes next. Maybe the MyPillow Guy will run, or a cardboard cutout of Trump.

There really is only one certainty: It would be the wildest and wackiest primary in US history, so let’s root for those aliens… or maybe the Supreme Court will rule that Section 3 of the 14th Amendment applies to Trump because he had “previously taken an oath… to support the Constitution of the United States” but then “engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the same, or given aid or comfort to the enemies thereof.”

After all, that’s what he did.

Maybe a couple of those billionaires who give stuff to Supreme Court justices can use their corrupting influence for good this time and convince the likes of Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito that it’s time to dump Trump.

That wouldn’t just be good for the country; it would also be extremely entertaining. 


  • Klaus Marre

    Klaus Marre is a writer, editor, former congressional reporter, and director of the WhoWhatWhy Mentor Apprentice Program. Follow him on Twitter @KlausMarre.

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